Thompson says issue is a distraction

Superintendent Barbara Thompson
Superintendent Barbara Thompson

Montgomery Superintendent Barbara Thompson issued the following statement concerning the recent controversy over her doctorate degree.

I have spent my adult life educating children. When I was in elementary school, a wonderful teacher showed me how a caring, knowledgeable educator could have a positive lasting impact on the lives of others. My goal has been to follow that example, and I hope I have.

The conversation about progress in my pursuit of a doctorate has distracted some members of the community from the real issues facing our schools. Not the least of which is the announcement this week that 7.5 percent proration has been declared. For Montgomery that means we will have $11,250,000 fewer dollars this year to support our children and to move our system forward. This issue had moved the focus of conversations about schools away from the fact that Brewbaker Technology High School was named one of only 314 Blue Ribbon Schools in the nation, and that we recently had 20 students recognized as among this country's best and brightest scholars. I am truly sorry that this issue has overshadowed such remarkable achievements.

It is important to know that at no time during my interview process did I misrepresent my standing as a doctoral candidate. From the beginning, I was clear with the board that I was a dissertator. I told board members and the media that I had completed my course work and was working toward completion of my dissertation. It was, and continues to be, my intention to complete my doctorate. Anyone who has changed jobs and moved across country can understand how that can affect the pursuit of any goal. Finishing tasks in my old position, packing and moving, and then beginning work in Montgomery in July, ahead of my projected start date, in order to hit the ground running as school opened became a higher priority. If I had neglected my duties as superintendent in order to concentrate on finishing my dissertation, I am confident there would be a louder outcry that my focus was not on our students.

As a matter of courtesy, I have not always corrected those who have referred to me as Dr. Thompson. Many of these references have been in public settings, and I felt it would have caused embarrassment to the person making the introduction.

As part of the normal transition from one administration to another, it is not uncommon to have mistakes on letterhead and other materials. In anticipation of my arrival, staff produced stationary in advance with the title of doctor next to my name. I sign dozens and dozens of documents daily. As soon as I noted the mistake, the letterhead was changed. A well-meaning staff member produced the infamous nameplate on the board table. Again, as soon as the mistake was discovered, it was corrected. I have copies of emails I sent prior to my arrival where I asked staff not to include the title "Dr." on items such as my business cards. It is unfortunate that the stationary was produced and the nameplate mislabeled. These were the result of misunderstandings by staff with no intention of misleading anyone. This represents nothing more than a series of innocent transition mistakes.

At no time have I misrepresented myself in an introduction, nor have I asked anyone to call me anything except Superintendent Thompson, Barbara, or as the custom in the state of Wisconsin for those who share my first name - Barb.

My resume projected an August 2009 graduation date. That did not happen, so when I posted my biographical information on the district website in September, I included the fact that I was still a doctoral candidate. Perhaps I was naive to assume that would be sufficient in explaining my current status. I was hired based on my experience, and at no time was the completion of my doctorate made a condition of my employment. In fact, statewide just 56 of the 132 school superintendents currently have Ed.D or Ph.D. degrees.

I recognize this issue has been a distraction and for that, I am sorry. It was never my intent to make people believe I was something I am not. I know that I have the skills and the expertise to lead our schools. As a lifelong learner, I seek knowledge each day. I hope to complete my Ph.D. in the future.

My first commitment is to the children, parents and employees of Montgomery Public Schools and to our community. Working to meet our challenges with a seemingly ever-decreasing budget, turning around a high dropout rate, recruiting and maintaining excellent teachers, and preparing our students for life are my top priorities.

Thank you for your understanding and your continued support of our children and our schools.

Barbara W. Thompson
Montgomery Public Schools